Non-fiction picks of 2014

Non-fiction, graphic novels and poetry of 2015
I read a lot of stuff for research, which always affects what I’m reading. This year I read a lot for the novel that I’m working on, and I read a lot for personal interest. I’m also interested in reading Buddhist books, books on creativity and writing and books about Native issues right now.
1. Projection by Priscila Uppal- I think I stayed up all night reading this book. Priscila Uppal spent many years estranged from her mother, who ran away from home when Priscila and her brother were young. Priscila grew up with a disabled father and left home when she was quite young. Years later, Priscila finds her mother, a film critic, in Brazil. She reunites with her mother, who happens to be a completely horrible person who is divorced from reality. This is an excellent memoir about mothers, daughters, film, reality, delusions and family relations.

2. Drink by Ann Dowsett Johnston- I remain rather concerned about the over emphasis of drinking in Western culture. Yes, I enjoy wine, but I also feel that alcoholism and problem drinking is becoming normalized and something that people joke about far too often. In “Drink”, Ann Dowsett Johnston looks at the rise of female drinking and alcoholism, and shows how female drinking and the feminization of alcoholism is becoming a growing problem. She shows research, talks to alcoholics and reveals her own experience. Riveting, chilling and sadly overlooked. (One of the chilling facts- the rise of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder is growing and is not diagnosed in the children of white, middle class women, because of the acceptance and rise of drinking.)

3. Nocturne by Helen Humphreys- Helen Humphreys lost her beloved brother a few years ago and wrote this book as part of her experience with grief. The book is divided into short chapters which represent each year of her brother’s life. It’s written in a series of letters that she wrote to her brother. Since 2012, I’ve lost five family members, so I’ve developed a fascination with grief memoirs. This is a beautiful, moving and poetic book. My mom also pointed out that there’s a lot about writing in this book too.

4. Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed- This is a collection of the Dear Sugar advice columns. It’s very poetic, personal and thoughtprovoking. You don’t have to read the entire collection at once. “Write like a motherfucker” is an amazing essay and there are also some great essays about love, loss and writing. (Bonus, there’s apparently now a Dear Sugar podcast featuring Cheryl Strayed and Steve Almond)

5. They called me number one by Chief Bev Sellars- This is a true life story of one woman’s experience at residential school. It’s gripping, disturbing and raw and will give anyone an understanding of what actually happened at residential schools. I think this should be required reading. (Bonus- Find Shelagh Rogers’ podcast interview with Chief Bev Sellars on the Next Chapter website.)

6. The M word- edited by Kerry Clare- This is a collection of essays about motherhood, featuring women who are mothers and women who aren’t mothers. (Full disclosure- I know a lot of people in this book). This is a fantastic collection that adds to the dialogue around motherhood. I recommended it to two new moms in my life this year.

7. Still writing by Dani Shapiro- You know when a book finds you at precisely the right time? That was my experience with Still Writing. I needed to read this book because I was at a very dark crisis point in my relationship with my own writing. This book spoke to me like a wise teacher. It helped me through that darkness. I liked it so much that I went out and bought a copy of it immediately, even though it was still in hardcover. I’ll refer to it often. (Bonus- For those of you who liked the article called “A memoir is not a status update” That’s by the same author.)

8. This one summer by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki- A graphic novel! I actually read a lot of graphic novels this year. This one tells the story of a summer spent in Lake Muskoka cottage country. This book captures the nuances of pre-teen life, and shows how pre-teens start to understand the adult world. Jillian Tamaki’s drawings have subtle details in them that add to the story. Excellent. I also enjoyed Through the woods by Emily Carroll, which was deliciously creepy.

9. First spring grass fire by Rae Spoon- Rae, who has given up pronouns, tells the story of growing up in Calgary, being a travelling musician and coming out. I love their writing and the gutsiness and realness of this collection. (Bonus- Gender failure by Ivan Coyote and Rae Spoon is also worth a read)

10. My body is a book of rules by Elissa Washuta and What doesn’t kill us by Brandy Lien Worrall- Two interesting memoirs that intersect body issues, racial issues and mental health. “What doesn’t kill us” is about Brandy Lien Worrall’s experience with an aggressive and rare form of cancer. I have been online friends with Brandy for years, so it was interesting for me to learn more about what I only knew from reading her blog and status updates. I thought this was a well-written and riveting book and I read it in a few hours. Brandy had an agent for the book, but she kept on running into roadblocks with marketing departments at book publishers, as they kept saying, “This is just another cancer memoir.” So Brandy decided to self-publish. (You can buy the book on Amazon). This is not just another cancer memoir. It’s a book about family, love history, war and race. “My body is a book of rules” is a series of essays by Elissa Washuta about sexual assault, her experiences with bipolar disorder, healing and so on. The essays were creative, gutsy and daring. (I read this book in one sitting. If I read a book in one sitting, it has a good chance of ending up on this list.)

11. I’m really bad about writing about poetry that I read. My favourite poetry collection that I read was “Designated Mourner” by Catherine Owen. This fits into the category of grief memoirs. This collection is about Catherine Owen’s relationship with and grief around her former partner, who died of a drug overdose. Other poetry books that were notable to me were The Narcoleptic Madonna by Kim Fahner, Seldom Seed Road by Jenna Butler, Seva by Sharanpal Ruprai and This Hot place by Bernadette Wagner.

12. Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay- In this collection, Roxane Gay writes a series of essays and talks about feminism, race, and pop culture. This was an easy to read and understand collection. I loved it. I wish more people would read it.

13. Thrive by Ariana Huffington- A book about achieving balance and peace in today’s busy world. I found it pretty useful. Lots of good techniques and strategies in here.

14. Boundless by Kathleen Winter- a first person account of a trip on a boat through the Northwest passage. Very moving, personal and poetic. I learned a lot and I loved the writing.
15.The Tastemakers by David Sax- I almost forgot about this one and just remembered it when I was reading something else online. This book examines food fads and why things get popular. There are chapters about cupcakes, fondue, cronuts, black rice and superfoods. (I learned that Dr. Oz created superfoods. Also, superfoods can’t really be a silver bullet because no one food is a panacea. And superfoods are be from far away lands and somewhat exotic. Think quinoa or goji berries. They are fabricated concepts). Anyway, this one was riveting and fascinating and another book that I foisted on my dad (And he loved it.)

16. Last but definitely not least. In fact, this would be the one book I would champion on this list. The Inconvenient Indian by Thomas King- If you read one book about First Nations people, this should be it. This will tell you about the history of the First Nations and the injustices against First Nations people. It describes the history in plain language and doesn’t sugarcoat reality. If someone says something racist about First Nations people around me, I’m going to put this book in front of them and prop their eyes open a la Clockwork Orange, so that they can read it. Seriously, it should be required reading for all Canadians. This book is a serious gift.

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